September 20, 2017

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Alien prequel feels like original films

Android character brings out the best in Michael Fassbender

The Alien franchise has always been battleground for the philosophical and physical tussles for dominance between human, alien and artificial intelligence. While Alien set up the themes, character types, and iconography of this universe, 2012’s prequel Prometheus established an origin story and philosophy, bringing up questions of faith, spirituality and the risks of creating life.

Alien: Covenant, once again directed by Ridley Scott, is the second prequel in the series, chronologically following Prometheus, and exploring the fallout from the events of that film, while offering a rich terrain for an epic battle between the differing forces in this world. The questions posed in the film are universal and primal, and easy answers are never forthcoming.

The humans in the story are a plucky crew of space explorers; a tight-knit group of couples piloting a ship of colonists to a new planet that holds their dreams of a fresh start and new life. When a random shockwave hits the ship’s solar recharging sails, damage is incurred, lives are lost and the team is diverted from its course. A rogue, seemingly human, transmission offers the opportunity to explore a closer, previously hidden planet, so they decide to try their luck — though this roll of the dice is made under some objection.

Rogue transmissions, planets that seem too good to be true and a motley crew of space explorers? It sounds a lot like the Alien we know. Covenant uses the mythology established by Prometheus and fuses it with the story and character types of Alien. Scott explores the tensions between spirituality and science, faith and family, emotional and analytical intelligence, and manages to do all that in the style of a slasher horror film. Covenant rips through plot points and action set pieces with the speed of a xenomorph ripping through flesh. The story is a whirlwind smash-and-grab as the group is slowly pulled in different directions and picked off one by one, until a final girl, or woman, is left standing.

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The Alien franchise has always been battleground for the philosophical and physical tussles for dominance between human, alien and artificial intelligence. While Alien set up the themes, character types, and iconography of this universe, 2012’s prequel Prometheus established an origin story and philosophy, bringing up questions of faith, spirituality and the risks of creating life.

Alien: Covenant, once again directed by Ridley Scott, is the second prequel in the series, chronologically following Prometheus, and exploring the fallout from the events of that film, while offering a rich terrain for an epic battle between the differing forces in this world. The questions posed in the film are universal and primal, and easy answers are never forthcoming.

The humans in the story are a plucky crew of space explorers; a tight-knit group of couples piloting a ship of colonists to a new planet that holds their dreams of a fresh start and new life. When a random shockwave hits the ship’s solar recharging sails, damage is incurred, lives are lost and the team is diverted from its course. A rogue, seemingly human, transmission offers the opportunity to explore a closer, previously hidden planet, so they decide to try their luck — though this roll of the dice is made under some objection.

Rogue transmissions, planets that seem too good to be true and a motley crew of space explorers? It sounds a lot like the Alien we know. Covenant uses the mythology established by Prometheus and fuses it with the story and character types of Alien. Scott explores the tensions between spirituality and science, faith and family, emotional and analytical intelligence, and manages to do all that in the style of a slasher horror film. Covenant rips through plot points and action set pieces with the speed of a xenomorph ripping through flesh. The story is a whirlwind smash-and-grab as the group is slowly pulled in different directions and picked off one by one, until a final girl, or woman, is left standing.

Mark Rogers / Twentieth Century Fox</p><p>Katherine Waterston, as Daniels in Alien: Covenant, is a capable throwback to Sigourney Weaver’s character in the original films.</p>

Mark Rogers / Twentieth Century Fox

Katherine Waterston, as Daniels in Alien: Covenant, is a capable throwback to Sigourney Weaver’s character in the original films.

The final woman is played by Katherine Waterston, who has been toughened up with a bowl haircut and an odd little cap. She is broken, in mourning, trying to put herself back together and keep fighting for her dream. It takes a bit of time, but Waterston ably fills the Ripley-sized shoes of Sigourney Weaver, both physically and mentally. In the Alien franchise, whether human, alien, or artificial, female intelligence is proven to be the most versatile and insightful, and Waterston embodies that with finesse.

But no performance eclipses that of Michael Fassbender, who played the android David in Prometheus and here plays a later model of the same droid, Walter. From Ash in Alien to David, android intelligence has always been in many ways superior, but less easy to predict. Fassbender is given the opportunity to give a wide-ranging and fascinatingly campy performance, and it’s no surprise he steals the show.

Much of the spiritual questions about creation are wrapped up in Fassbender’s character, who questions his provenance and if he himself can create. This desire for procreation and preservation of the self — human, alien or artificial — is what motivates every being in the Alien universe, and in Covenant, Scott sets up a thrilling thunderdome in which we can watch this bloody battle unfold.

— Tribune News Service

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